Aunt Bess was a typical Yankee, a lean and energetic Marbleheader
blessed with a pleasing voice and the personality of an old-time
school teacher. (As a youngster, I once spent a week at her home.
Never again did I ever "drop" a G!)
She was a woman of many talents, an accomplished gardener, an
indefatigable birdwatcher, dedicated nature-lover and gifted
Shortly after she and Robert Fellows Wood married, they purchased
a house in Narberth, Pennsylvania -- an attractive suburb on
the outskirts of Philadelphia. There, she promptly fell in love
with the region's rolling green -- clad hills and valleys, its
picturesque stone houses, neatly laid-out farms, and beautifully
They were well-matched because Uncle Robert, a native of Shelburne,
Massachusetts, and Director of Advertising for the Autocar company,
not only shared her hobbies but wholeheartedly supported them.
Together, they would drive to the outskirts of the borough whenever
time and circumstances permitted them to do so. There, they would
enjoy a light snack while they blissfully watched a herd of cows
contentedly chew their cuds in a fenced-in barnyard. And whenever
the weather bureau forecasted a delightful evening, they would
hie themselves to a nearby knoll where they communed with nature
at its best.
Although Aunt Bess was my father's sole surviving sister, their
contact was limited to an occasional exchange of letters, or
to one or two widely-spaced phone calls. She invited Arch to
Narberth every so often, but he always turned down her invitations,
using one lame excuse after another to explain his reluctance
to pay her a visit. However, in time her pleas carried the day,
and he agreed-rather grudgingly-to leave his home on Knight's
Hill and "betake" himself to Narberth.
Following his arrival, the next two days were devoted to sightseeing
as Aunt Bess was not unmindful of the fact that Arch had never
traveled far beyond Marblehead's rugged precincts. One day,
among other planned diversions, he was driven around the town
and introduced to some of his sister's closest friends who proudly
showed him their herb gardens and described to him the medicinal
properties of the various herbs they were cultivating. Another
day, he visited nearby Ardmore and walked through the Autocar's
rambling plant where he learned how its huge trucks were made,
assembled and distributed. And each evening, Uncle Robert, Aunt
Bess and my father would top off the day by dining at the Merion
The third day of my father's stay at Narberth was-happily-a Sunday.
And as was his habit, he arose early, grabbed the Sunday paper,
seated himself in a comfortable chair overlooking the garden,
and lit a foul-smelling cigar. For him, the Sabbath was essentially
a day of rest and relaxation, a time to catch up on the latest
political scandal and chew out the rascals, blackguards and dumbbells
who were selling the country down the river.
Aunt Bess, however, had other ideas-more in keeping with the
mores of the day. A devout Episcopalian, she brushed aside his
requests to let him take it easy that one day, and led him off
to church instead. After a hearty midday lunch, he spent the
afternoon listening to Aunt Bess and a neighbor discuss how to
best organize a living room-sized herbarium.
Later that afternoon, the neighbor having departed, Bess and
Robert chauffeured my father to a hill several miles from Narberth.
There, they patiently awaited the glorious sunset that Aunt Bess
had earlier predicted. The azure sky was cloudless, the evening
air warm, sultry and as fragrant as a field of freshly-mown hay.
And Aunt Bess was right. As Old Sol sank behind the distant horizon,
the world was enveloped in a riot of color, creating a scene
of dazzling beauty.
Thrilled to the core by one of nature's most spectacular displays,
Aunt Bess turned to my father to see how he was reacting to it.
To her utter amazement, he was standing stock-still, his head
bent and his eyes riveted on the large gold stemwinder watch
he was holding cupped in one hand.
"Arch! Is something wrong? Or is something bothering you?"
"Shsh! Shsh! Hush up!" said my father. "In exactly
one minute, the sun'll go down behind Abbot Hall!"
Poor Aunt Bess. For a moment, she was staggered and speechless.
Then she exploded:
"Oh, hell! Let's go home."
My Aunt Bess, born in Marblehead, died in Narbeth, Pennsylvania,
and lies buried beside her husband in the cemetery of All Saint's
Episcopal Church in neighboring Wynwood. In Marblehead's Waterside
Cemetery, a large granite stone marks the grave of her parents,
Archibald Selman and Miriam Pedrick Knight.
But Bess left instructions (which every native-born 'Header will
Thus, the following words grace the back of the Knight stone